Writing a song can seem like an ambitious project for a beginner to take on. If you are new to learning an instrument, then you may not be able to even play a song through fully yet. Nonetheless, writing a song does not necessarily mean that you have to be a skilled musician. Nor do you need the ability to write the music down. Simply recording it is enough to have written a song in a way that other musicians can pick up on. Remember that song writing is not arranging where all of the musical parts and groove are laid out in a fully organised way. At it’s heart, a song consists of lyrics and a melody, or tune. Along with this, most people would consider a simple harmony to be part of the song’s unique flavour and this is usually given as a straightforward chord structure. Here are 5 songwriting tips to get you started with how to write a song:
Sitting down with a blank piece of paper in front of your keyboard or with a guitar over your knee and waiting for an idea to come along really does work for some people, but for most of us, we need a germ of an idea to get going in the first place. Listen to some songs that inspire you and take an idea – perhaps a riff that you can alter, or a lyrical hook that makes you think of something new. Most popular songs are not truly original and are based on the ideas of others who have come before. So, take inspiration from your musical heroes and don’t be overawed by how good they are. Who knows where your inspiration may take you?
Sometimes the best ideas in song writing are not planned but just ‘come about’. If you think that sitting at a piano and bashing out a few related chords whilst humming a tune that you happen to make up on the spot is naïve, then you’d be wrong. Plenty of successful song writers, like Paul McCartney for example, have gone on the record as saying this is the way that they have come up with some of their best-known tunes. Vocalise your ideas, even if you are not a great singer. You might be able to ‘hear’ notes in your head that you cannot reach with your voice and can work on the melody later to make it more expansive. The improvisational technique is just a starting point to help you get going with melody making and phrasing.
Think About Rhymes
Writing lyrics takes time and effort, especially when you restrict yourself to rhyming words at the end of lines. Not all songs need to rhyme, but many do, so get a good rhyming dictionary. When starting, don’t commit yourself to a constant rhyming pattern with all the words in a verse ending with the same sound – one, gun, fun, tonne, bun, done etc. Instead, opt for an ABAB pattern, or ABCABC. This gives you a bit more freedom to operate with. Remember that rhyming need not be exact and that close rhymes usually work very well in the context of songs. For example, Friday and tidy may not truly rhyme, but they will sound just fine with a good singer belting them out with confidence.
Most songs have standard structures. Stick to one of these as a beginner, but there is nothing to stop you from pushing the boundaries once you feel a little more accomplished. Songs usually start with an intro which could be a few bars long or just the verse structure played through once before the words come in. Either way, an intro should set the tone for what is to come. Some songs will work with a verse, chorus, verse, chorus structure, but there is often a pre-chorus or bridge, a bar or two long, which helps to lift the chorus or to link it with the verse harmonically. Some songs will also go for a different feel toward the end and have a so-called middle eight before the final choruses. This changes the mood of the song, is often more reflective and can sometimes set the chorus in a new light, adding to the overall meaning of the song. Confusingly, middle eights are often not eight bars long – although they certainly can be – and sometimes musicians call them bridges. Nevertheless, you can usually spot one in a song because it will only come once and is frequently a bit weirder, or more ‘out there’, than the rest of the song.
Learn Some Harmony Theory
If you know that in the key of C major, the chords of D minor, E minor7, F major and A minor will all sound harmonically correct then you are on the right track. However, without this knowledge it is still possible to write a song’s chord structure by simply experimenting with your melody set against different chord choices. Remember not to always stick to the rules, however. In a major key, like G major for instance, sometimes play an E7 chord behind the melody, rather than the harmonically correct E minor. The accidental A flat note in this chord can make all the difference to your melody, often taking it in a new direction that you had previously not thought of.
The only thing from stopping you from song writing is yourself. Learning more helps, but it is not essential, so get going and express your ideas in one of the most rewarding ways that you can!